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Unsanctioned peace talks between Taliban, Afghan advocates 'fruitful' in Russia

By Nicholas Sakelaris
Unsanctioned peace talks between Taliban, Afghan advocates 'fruitful' in Russia
Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai met with Taliban representatives in Moscow for two-day peace talks. Photo by Rajat Gupta/EPA-EFE

Feb. 6 (UPI) -- The Taliban has engaged in "fruitful" peace talks with Afghan political leaders in Russia concerning a new constitution, women's rights and an interim government.

The talks in Moscow are part of a peace process between Taliban and Afghan leaders and the United States toward the removal of American troops from the Middle Eastern nation. The talks, however, are not sanctioned by the Afghan government, which has been reluctant to engage in any discussions with the Taliban.

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Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai is among those meeting with Taliban officials in Russia.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has dismissed the talks, but many of Afghan politicians in attendance oppose the Ghani regime and could work to undermine its legitimacy.

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"Where is their executive power?" he asked Tolo News in an interview. "Let hundreds of such meetings be held, but these would only be paper [agreements] unless there is an agreement by the Afghan government; Afghanistan's national assembly and Afghanistan's legal institutions."

Ghani's U.S.-backed government wants to engage in talks with the Taliban directly without political opponents involved. Still, those involved with the Moscow talks noted progress -- it's the first time the Taliban officially met with high-level representatives from Kabul. Previously, negotiations were held only between U.S. officials and Taliban leaders.

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"We are exchanging our views. So this is the first step which we are taking towards peace and, [God willing], in the future we will have more meetings," the head of the Taliban delegation, Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, said.

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After the meeting, Taliban officials said Afghanistan's new constitution would reflect an Islamic government.

Last week, American officials and the Taliban started working on a deal to bring an end to the 18-year U.S. military presence in Afghanistan.

Ghani's administration said it's also concerned about the Taliban returning to power if U.S. forces leave. It's especially concerning for women, who were banned from working or studying under Taliban rule.

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Stanikzai told BBC News Afghan women "should not worry" and they will be granted rights "according to Islamic rule and Afghan culture."

"They can go to school, they can go to universities, they can work," he said.

The Taliban has said it won't agree to a cease-fire until foreign forces are gone. Stanikzai said the Taliban does not want to seize Afghanistan by military power.

"Peace is more difficult than war," he said, adding that Afghanistan's present constitution was "imported from the West" and is an "obstacle to peace."

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